Crossover & Midsize

Tragic Range Rover Rollovers Prove Parking Brakes Save Lives

For many drivers, the parking brake is an annoyance. Whether they forget about it or pretend it doesn’t exist, drivers don’t use their vehicle’s parking brake often. But shouldn’t they? Jaguar Land Rover, which makes the luxury Range Rover SUV, thinks so.

CBS News recently reported that some owners are suing Land Rover over the Range Rover’s tendency to roll away on its own. Land Rover is fighting back, and the parking brake is the key to the automaker’s argument.

The Range Rover’s rolling issue

Parking is a basic function of driving. Shift the gear into park, pull the key out of the ignition, and hop out.

That’s what Shadi Farhat thought she did, said her husband, who spoke with CBS News. When she stepped out of her 2017 Range Rover, it began to roll backward. She was caught under the vehicle, sustaining injuries that led to her death a few days later.

Farhat’s husband blames the tragedy on her Range Rover’s gear shifter. She had claimed was difficult to read, he said. The shifter in question isn’t a stick but a dial that users must turn to switch gears. 

Other owners, such as Gina Warsavsky, have experienced the same problem. Warsavsky’s Range Rover rolled away as she was exiting it. The vehicle knocked her to the ground and rolled over her right hand. It has required major reconstructive surgery.

The evidence is unclear

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Because these tragic accidents have been ongoing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration got involved. It conducted an investigation that lasted four years.

According to CBS News, the NHTSA said it “has not identified any mechanical or electronic faults” causing the vehicle to shift out of park and blamed “operator error.” The NHTSA backed up those findings by pointing out that an alarm would sound if the driver opened the door while the vehicle was not in park.

That wasn’t what consumers suing Land Rover wanted to hear. It didn’t help their case, but some evidence indicates Land Rover knew of the troublesome dial shifters and didn’t do anything about it.

In 2013, Land Rover sent out a special service message to its dealers. It acknowledged “concern with the Gearshift Module” becoming “stuck in position … or has erratic or intermittent operation,” CBS News reported.

That wasn’t the only document submitted to the court to back up the lawsuit. In 2017, the automaker’s records made clear that Land Rover knew some vehicles with dial shifters were rolling away. The document hinted there were hundreds of incidents, 28 of which involved the Range Rover.

That seems telling, and it doesn’t look good for Land Rover. The luxury automaker has been around for a while, however, and has jumped on one line from the NHTSA report that might help it avoid losing this lawsuit.

Parking brakes aren’t cosmetic

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Despite documentation that seems to imply Land Rover knew of the shifter issue, the British automaker blames the failures on “operator error.” So how was it the drivers’ fault that the dial shifter doesn’t always work properly?

Though some Range Rovers’ dial shifters might be defective or poorly designed, the parking brake could prevent vehicles from rolling. Your Mechanic points out several reasons to always use a vehicle’s parking brake.

The main reason is that the parking gear can break. It’s rare, but it happens. Using the parking brake is one way to ensure a vehicle stays put.

So will the parking brake get Land Rover off the hook in this predicament? That’s for the courts to decide.